Sunday, May 16, 2010

No Love for Heaven

"If in [or for] this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are of all men most miserable." 
— I Cor. xv, 19.

The worst feature of dying Western Christianity – amongst Catholics too, alas – is that we have no hope, no appetite for heaven.  All we prate about are vague do-good platitudes.  Yet St Paul explicitly warns us, we are of all most to be pitied – to be esteemed, in fact, as miserable and wretched – if we trust in Christ for and in this present life only.

Augustine says (De Verbis Domini, Sermone 100,2): “The East,” that is Christ, “calleth thee, and thou turnest to the West,” namely mortal and fallible man.  
— St Thomas Aquinas, S.T.,IIaIIæ,189,10, resp.

It never ceases to amaze me how we turn from Christ and embrace the world.  (Well, I backslide as much as any man, but I also confess my sins and turn back to the Lord.)  Christ's glorious Ascension being the feast celebrated, you'd think we might have preaching about the glorious hope we have in Him, our Head, having gone ahead of us, that where He is, we might soon follow.  But no, all we creatures care for is that He is with us still – true enough, but not enough.  

It is a great thing, a very great thing, that Christ is with us in the Sacraments, that He is active in us, that when we do good to the least and lowliest, we do good to Him in His poor.  But if we have no sure hope for heaven, we have lost our orientation to ta Eschata, the Last Things, and "are of all men most miserable".

Since I left Fr Rowe's pastoral care in Perth, W.A., I don't think I've heard a sermon about heaven and our necessary focus on living lives aiming at getting there!  You'd think Christianity was just about bourgeois niceness, going on too much of what passes for preaching.  No wonder no one wants to be a Christian anymore.

I was suddenly struck, when about to go up to communicate at Mass, how the evident focus of the words of the Liturgy – both the Ordinary and the Proper – seemed to have been neglected so foolishly and dangerously in the preaching I heard.

Christianity does seem a religion fit only for wimps and old women, when it is portrayed, especially by its would-be leaders, both lay and clerical, as just a way of "being nice".  We shy away from suggesting some salutary "salvation anxiety", or indeed any focus on salvation at all!

Do people presume we will all just "go to heaven" and be saved by a God too nice to do otherwise (as the Scriptures don't say)?  I fear that, given the half-joking, half-ashamed words of too many when people die, to the effect that "Uncle Jack's drinking beer with God in heaven" or somesuch nonsense, that people really have no clear idea of nor belief in the immortality of the soul, let alone the future resurrection.

That is why I fear that preaching about the Ascension without mentioning our hope for heaven is completely topsy-turvy.

Precisely what we need is a strong lecture about heaven, and its reality, and the truth that all our hope for heaven is in Our Lord, Who now reigns there in His Sacred Humanity, so that the substance of our humanity is now already at God's Right.  In this is our hope!

Universalism is a type of indifferentism – and declines into disbelief into any future state.  This process has already taken place, I see it in fellow Christians.  As that appalling ditty has it, "Not in some heaven light-years away..."

Preaching ought not confirm us just in little ideas we already have, but open our eyes to what we have not considered, and strengthen our wavering belief in doctrines we don't grasp.  We need sermons about heaven, and striving for heaven – not just about living nice safe lives on earth.

Turning religion into an excuse for "being nice" alone – now that's real sin, howsoever it is dressed up.  It vitiates religion of what is its real aim – to come nigh unto God, firstly in this world, then forever in the next.  And it only attracts the rightful and well-deserved derision of non-believers.

"If in [or for] this life only we have hoped in Christ,
we are of all men most miserable."


Mark said...

"Do people presume we will all just "go to heaven" and be saved by a God too nice to do otherwise"

Sadly, Josh, this is exactly what they believe! You're right when you say they have no clear idea of what Heaven (or Hell) actually mean or are!

Anonymous said...

As that appalling ditty has it, "Not in some heaven light-years away..."

I refuse to sing this miserable Haugen piece. I'd like to take a razor and excise it out of every Catholic music resource.

St. Paul had it exactly right and so do you, Joshua. It's not about being "nice", it's about living in the New Creation that Jesus will usher in at the Parousia. Heaven is indeed our true home.

We need to hear that at Mass over and over again.